July 10, 2002


Samuel Beckett’s trilogy of post-World War II novels, the first book of which, Molloy, is one of my favorites, ends with these seven words – a distillation, in a sense, of all he wrote – “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” (Similarly the bible, I’ve heard said, can be reduced in a pinch to a single two-word verse: “Jesus wept.”)

Recently I’ve taken to extending Beckett’s ending slightly. Three examples follow, with commentary.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Whatever.

We persist despite our avowed inability to do so. Why is this? Why do we say one thing, believe one thing, and do another? Who knows and who cares.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on. What’s up with that?

What indeed.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Deal with it.

My notes read, “Confronting the external critic,” but rather than expound on that, I’ll share some Beckett trivia.

What sport did Beckett love to watch on television? Rugby.

What did Beckett say on his deathbed when asked what he had found valuable in life? “Precious little.”